Lukvance, I think you have it exactly right: gods exist in the same way that love exists. Love is a real emotion, scientists have located the places in the brain that are activated when someone is in love, and are even beginning to figure out who falls in love with who.
But there is no free-floating love "out there" somewhere waiting to descend on the unsuspecting human like Cupid with the bow and arrow. Otherwise, love might be randomly or equally distributed in the population, depending on where the "love bug" was that day. Like, in a particular month or year, everyone in Algeria and Spain would be falling passionately in love, hooking up, and getting married like crazy. Meanwhile people in Brazil and Australia would be wondering what all the fuss was about. And then it might abruptly reverse the following year.
What we do find is that babies and children in every culture who are severely neglected or abused during important developmental stages do not experience love
, at least not he same way as other people in that culture. They are unable to attach to people appropriately because something is wrong in their brains--they did not get the right hormones at the right time, or whatever. Some reject or even attack family members and attach to random strangers. Not good.
Likewise, damage to the brain, dementia, and so forth can interfere with a person's ability to experience love. If someone loses their memory of their husband or wife due to brain malfunction, it is understandable that they cannot love that person anymore. How could they? They don't even recognize the person. This suggests that love does not exist independently of the brain that experiences it.
The experience of god appears to work the same way. Perhaps, like with love, there is a developmental window for humans to get the areas of the brain that are receptive to religious belief up and running. If a child misses getting info about gods and religion into their brain during that window, it may be that much harder for religion to "take" later on.
That would also explain why most people tend to stick with the religion they learned about as a child. It makes the most sense to them-- of course it does! That was the religion that got in when the brain's "religion window" was open the widest.
The exact same religion that makes such perfect sense to people who grew up in it sounds like a ridiculous, made-up, magical fairy tale or an obvious, outright scam to most people who are learn about it as adult. Consider the scorn that JW's have for Catholics, Baptists for Scientologists, Mormons for Muslims, Unitarians for Pentecostal snake handlers. And vice versa.
More evidence for this brain-god-developmental connection, and against the "god is out there waiting to get in touch with all of us" concept?
1) Religions are regionally distributed, usually the most prevalent where they were first thought up. Religions travel where the people who believe in that religion go, and no faster or slower than the people can take it.
2) Religions are unequally spread across the planet, which is what you would expect to see if religions actually came from humans who are limited by distance, communications technology and available transportation. Godly super beings, we would assume, are not stopped by mountains, deserts, oceans or language barriers.
3) Nobody has ever reported finding their exact religious belief already being practiced in a new place. Imagine when Arab Muslims first reached the west coast of Africa-- if they had found that Allah had gotten there first and the black people of Senegal already had the Quran, and were practicing the exact same religion of Islam! But no.